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Somme Visit


old sparky
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I had been to the Somme before. In the late 70s I took my father-in-law to see the battlefields which claimed the lives of two of his uncles. We went with little preparation and minimal research but managed to find Beaumont Hamel and Delville Wood and came back with a sense of achievement and that feeling of awe and humility that a first visit to the Somme always brings. One of the lasting impressions was that of the cemeteries kept in such beautiful condition by the CWGC, from the tiny battlefield burials to the huge collections, stunningly designed to impress upon the visitor the message that they convey of sorrow, pride and gratitude.

Last week my wife and I went with her two brothers and their partners to repeat the pilgrimage of remembrance and pay our respects to Great Uncles Gilbert and William. This time however we had researched their respective wars, with a great deal of assistance from GWF I hasten to add, and we were able to trace their steps in detail. We stayed in Martinpuich with John and Jenny Knight at the Silent Picket which I would recommend to anyone who is visiting the Somme. Genial hosts, great food and very comfortable beds as well as a comprehensive library gave us an ideal base for our areas of interest which were Redan Ridge and Delville Wood.

Having chickened out of a ferry crossing in the face of the recent storm we crossed via the Tunnel. Our route in therefore took us past Vimy and the Canadian Memorial which set us up nicely for the week ahead. We found the visitor centre there very informative and the staff pleasant and helpful. Arriving in the Somme area we were immediately struck by the amount of poppy emblazoned signs marking routes, front alignment, and directions to memorials, a great improvement for visitors of today over the DIY approach of 30 years ago.

The visitors centres and facilities made a great impression on us, especially the ladies! Those we visited were of a very good standard and well staffed and generally so located as to not detract from the site which they were serving. The Thiepval centre is particularly good in this respect.

The focus for most lay visitors however remains firmly on the cemeteries. I would find it extremely difficult to fault the presentation or upkeep of any of the cemeteries visited and every site gave the impression of having just been polished up for inspection. Surely these cemeteries are both demonstration and constant reminder of the nation's deep feelings of gratitude for the sacrifice made by so many young men, matched in this country only by the annual parades and ceremony of remembrance on Armistice Sunday. Would that our local and municipal memorials could somehow convey the same emotions. Is it just a question of location or perhaps scale?

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Quote; The focus for most lay visitors however remains firmly on the cemeteries. I would find it extremely difficult to fault the presentation or upkeep of any of the cemeteries visited and every site gave the impression of having just been polished up for inspection. Surely these cemeteries are both demonstration and constant reminder of the nation's deep feelings of gratitude for the sacrifice made by so many young men, matched in this country only by the annual parades and ceremony of remembrance on Armistice Sunday. Would that our local and municipal memorials could somehow convey the same emotions. Is it just a question of location or perhaps scale?

Unfortunately if the question is asked, the answer will be along the lines of 'resources' or 'cutbacks'.

However, I would wager that the same officials who have such trouble finding the 'resources', to maintain our memorials + cemeteries, will be first in line for the photo call when all the 100th anniversary stuff kicks off.

T

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